DOHA, QATAR– Imagine such a massive sporting event: ten venues, including eight stadiums, all within a 45 minute radius. 64 games in just under a month plus Fanfest. And the potential for an audience of 5 billion viewers worldwide, according to the International Federation of Association Football.
That can only be the 2022 World Cup.
Fox Sports, the event’s US broadcaster, will shoot and broadcast all games in native 4K HDR, with studio programming upscaled to 4K HDR from 1080p HDR, according to Kevin Callahan, vice president of field operations for the network. Domestic coverage begins Sunday, November 20th and concludes with the finale on December 18th at Lusail Stadium.
Fox Sports anticipates a huge audience will be focused on their screens of choice across Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. That means Fox Sports vice president of field operations Kevin Callahan and the 150+ crew will be working in a massive production to meet bigger expectations.
Two nerve centers
In early October, Callahan and company got down to the nitty gritty of the massive undertaking that began with the construction of two nerve centers: the Fox broadcast facility at the Qatar National Convention Centre, home of the International Broadcast Center. The facility will accommodate more than 75 channels.
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“All broadcasters will be present there and their feeds will be shared between countries,” Callahan said. “That means we get all 40 feeds from each game,” he said, citing Fox’s gear, which includes an EVS router, two Ross mixers, EVS servers, Grass Valley Alchemists for image processing, Calrec audio consoles and a Riedel intercom system. “There’s also a video sharing platform that allows all broadcasters to tell the bigger story, rather than just their own,” Callahan added.
Fox’s other nerve center will be the Corniche Studio, his one-sided position. At press time, Callahan and Studio Remote Operations Vice President Rod Conti were working with FIFA’s creative team to secure approval from the Qataris to build their broadcast center along Doha Bay’s seven-meter-long waterfront (aka the “Corniche”). ) to obtain. It will include four sets for the different parts of the day, including a full LED demo field as used during the network’s NFL coverage.
The stage will be built by Filmworks using a skeleton of Mod Truss, a self-ballasting metal built in along the coast due to the potential for high winds. Fox is also working with Creative Technologies to install 20 LED screens – six crowd facing, seven interior screens in the Penta Center, one floor screen, four header screens on the west stage and two interior screens – for production use as well as message for the enthusiastic fans queuing at the Corniche.
The specially built production facility will be 45 x 10 meters on two floors. It will house 18 Grass Valley LDX 150 cameras with Canon lenses (20×5 and 14×4.3), GVG switchers, GVG Alchemist frame rate converters, an EVS video router, EVS playback servers and Calrec audio consoles. The microphone list includes 24 wireless Sanken COS 11-Ds microphones via the Shure Axient.
But one production element that won’t be on display in Doha is graphic equipment or artists. “They will remain at Fox headquarters in Los Angeles,” Callahan said, marking a change in the network’s overall production since the 2018 World Cup inspired by the pandemic.
Fox Sports makes extensive use of Vizrt products for its 2022 World Cup broadcasts, including multiple instances of Viz Engine and Viz Trio. The Fox team chose Viz Engine to alleviate some of the complexity of its live graphics production and distribution, while Viz Trio, an advanced playout control application, allows Fox operators to control real-time, data-driven graphics.
Additionally, the network will utilize a full NDI cloud workflow to support the distribution of live digital media from LA to Qatar from existing software applications, computing devices and networks. Using NDI helps Fox avoid the expense of purchasing additional hardware and traveling to Qatar with additional production staff.
Callahan said the 2022 broadcast will mark the first time an English-language broadcaster has had a presence at the stadium across all eight venues in the United States. “Our match crews are always traveling,” he said, “but in this case nobody has to get on a plane.”
Within these venues, Host Broadcast Services will deploy a minimum of 40 cameras for each game. That means Fox will focus on side positions, using the Sony PXW-FX9s and VENICE 2s, using between two and six for each match. In addition, each venue will have its own Riedel intercom.
Also, Fan Fest will be held at Al Bidda Park where Fox will have a full live set on a 5m x 5m platform. Connections between all 10 venues and the IBC require gigabit fiber “or more than 20 miles. The facilities are all IP,” Callahan said. Diversified Systems is building 2110 IP-based flypacks for the spectacle and eight 100 GigE services will be used to carry the signals back to the US
Of course, building such a massive structure would be difficult in any weather, but try it in a desert where daily highs are typically in the mid-90s and sometimes triple digits — and it’s not dry heat either. This fact required a careful approach from the Fox crew.
“While we’re working out on the Corniche, we’re on night shifts to make sure we’re working safely,” Callahan said. “When the building is complete, we will add more than 80 tons of air conditioning. That’s more than a large building in the US would require.”
Then consider the venues. “Seven are new, except for the Khalifa International Stadium, and all will be repurposed after the World Cup,” Callahan said. “The Qataris have cooling technology that uses air pressure to push hot air out of each stadium,” he said, “to the point that you need a light jacket inside when it’s muggy outside.”
So what is the main difference between the World Cup and other major sporting events?
“We’re not the only broadcaster,” Callahan said, “so it’s not like the Super Bowl where we have more influence. Here we are just one of many broadcasters from around the world, so we have to apply to FIFA for what we need and compete with the other broadcasters to get it.”
So for now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get back to work because there’s no downtime while the FIFA World Cup gets rolling. “Another difference is that we broadcast 48 games in the first 13 days, then 16 of the last 16,” he said, “so the big boost is up front.
“So in that way, it’s like the Olympics,” Callahan said, “but it’s all football.”